Delta States Network Development Grant Program: Adolescent Prediabetes Prevention Program
The Georgia Health Policy Center recently spoke to Patrick Cowart, MBA, director of the Adolescent Prediabetes Prevention Program at the Richland Parish Hospital, about its groundbreaking efforts to improve the health of adolescents across the Delta region.
To date, what has been the biggest accomplishment or win in your program?
I think the biggest accomplishment is that we implemented this program across 29 high schools in 21 different parishes. It was so challenging to try to get this program implemented and part of that was because it has a bit of a medical component, as we are drawing blood. But over the years, what has happened is we have become a part of the fabric of each of those high schools and we are looked to for answers. We are automatically included in whatever is going on, the school teachers and administrators know the program is there and we have complete support within the schools.
What is a tip or early learning that you would share with an organization launching a similar program?
When doing any type of program, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when someone else has already figured out. When we started this program, there was no wheel. We were the first one to target adolescents. We took an adult program that the hospital was doing and thought we would mirror it and that it would be a piece of cake. But, it was not a piece of cake.
We had to sell our concept to the schools and to the school district and did probably 150 presentations just trying to gain permission to get into the schools. So, you have to be patient whenever you are implementing a new program, and don’t expect miracles the first day or even at the end of the first year. It is an ongoing process.
It also helps to be very flexible with the people that you are working with. We learned quickly that rigidity did not work. We knew what our program was, but we did not know how it was going to work within the school systems. You may have a concept in mind of what your program is supposed to be, but be willing to throw it all out the door or change it up to make it work within the environment that you are working in.
How do you see participation in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy’s Delta grant program impacting your broader health improvement efforts?
Our coordinators have become the go-to people for health information. While none of them are professional health care workers, they do make connections that need to be made and get answers for our people. Being part of the fabric of the schools, we have been able to start looking at other issues. We now do a faculty and staff health screening every year at the schools. We are identifying some trends we are seeing with health and health care needs. We know that rural, underserved areas have these common issues, but we see this as the opportunity now to step off and go even further. For example, something as simple as weight management for faculty and staff because you know, that feeds into diabetes.
What will your organization be doing more of or differently to emerge stronger from the pandemic?
The pandemic was, in the beginning, really devastating to what we were trying to do because our efforts are strictly face-to-face. We do the screenings, then we do education. You can say the education can be done via Zoom, but it just doesn’t work, not with this age group. So, our activities pretty much stopped. The schools were closing. There wasn’t any access at that point.
We kept up our lines of communications open with the schools and school districts, and we were able to get back into the schools that were open, but lots of them were virtual or combinations of virtual and onsite learning. As we eased back in, we didn’t get to do much of our education, but we were able to screen again, but one of the things that we found was the prior education that we had done with so many of these students had sunk in with them. I expected to see these kids gain a lot of weight because of inactivity and their A1C numbers were going to go up, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. We kind of patted ourselves on the back and thought, maybe we did something really good here.
We have a consortium that supports our efforts and when we did our first ever virtual meeting, it was highly attended — I think we had every school in attendance — but it was not real effective. They all had so many issues. Anytime you have an emergency or a disaster, or in this case a pandemic, people just want a voice. They want to be able to talk about their issues, their experiences. And that is what our meeting turned into. When we started back with regular consortium meetings, we started doing little mental health pieces and it has been wildly successful. They request it every time and we provide professionals at our meetings.